No attempt made to reduce powers of Auditor General or remove PM’s Office or Presidential Secretariat from AG’s purview
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, yesterday, denied allegations that the Auditor General’s powers would be reduced by the proposed 20th Amendment.
pm Rajapaksa said that Constitutional provisions regarding the Auditor General had hardly come to public attention and thus the opposition was using that lack of knowledge to propagate various falsehoods.
Rajapaksa said that one of the main false claims was that the 19th Amendment had created an Audit Commission and that the 20th Amendment sought to abolish it.
The PM said in a media statement: “What the 19th Amendment made provision for was not an Audit Commission but only an Audit Service Commission. The Audit Service Commission does not carry out any auditing functions. It handles matters like the appointment, promotion, transfer and disciplinary control of members of the State Audit Service. Usually such matters pertaining to government servants are dealt with by the Public Service Commission. All that the creation of the Audit Service Commission achieved was to set up yet another Commission to do the work that was being done by the Public Service Commission.”
“Another false claim being made by the opposition is that the 20th Amendment seeks to remove the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Prime Minister from the purview of the Auditor General. From the very inception of the 1978 Constitution, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office have been under the purview of the Auditor General. The phrase “all departments of government” in Article 154(1) of the pre-19th Amendment Constitution brought the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office under the purview of the Auditor General, he said. These institutions were always listed as government departments in the Government Financial Regulations. Quite apart from these two institutions, even the Office of Former Presidents is listed as a separate government department and all these institutions were always audited by the Auditor General.
“The inclusion of the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Prime Minister by name in Article 154(1), by the 19th Amendment did not achieve anything new. Even though they may have not been specifically mentioned by name, from the very inception of the 1978 Constitution, the Presidential Secretariat and Prime Minister’s Office had always been under the purview of the Auditor General. Even after the 20th Amendment reinstates the old article 154(1) which existed from the inception of the 1978 Constitution, in place of the so called ‘changes’ made by the 19th Amendment, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office will continue to remain within the purview of the Auditor General. Over the past decades, it’s the Auditor General who audited the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office and not some private audit firm.
“Another falsehood being propagated is that state owned companies will be removed from the purview of the Auditor General by the 20th Amendment. However the auditing of state corporations and state owned companies (i.e. companies in which the state owns more than 50% of the shares) comes under Article 154(2) of the Constitution. Under the provisions of Article 154(2), the minister in charge of the subject can assign the auditing of a state corporation or a state owned company to a qualified audit firm.
“However before doing so, he is mandatorily required to obtain the concurrence of the Finance Minister and also to consult the Auditor General. After the minister in charge of the subject assigns the auditing of a state corporation or a state owned company to an audit firm in this manner, the Auditor General can issue a written notice to that audit firm informing them that he proposes to utilize their services for the performance and discharge of the Auditor-General’s duties in relation to that state corporation or state owned company, and thereupon that audit firm is mandatorily required to act under the direction and control of the Auditor-General.
“The content of Article 154(2), which existed from the inception of the 1978 Constitution, was not changed by the 19th Amendment. The content of Article 154(2) will not change under the 20th Amendment either. Therefore it can be said that the content of Article 154(2) has remained the same from the inception of the 1978 Constitution and will continue to remain so in the future as well. Hence the claim that state owned companies are to be taken out of the purview of the Auditor General, is a complete falsehood.”
“It is also being claimed by the Opposition propagandists that the 19th Amendment has stipulated that the Auditor General should be a ‘qualified auditor’ and that when the 20th Amendment reinstates the old pre-19th Amendment Article 153(1) this qualification requirement will be dropped and hence, after the 20th Amendment is passed, even an unqualified person can be appointed as Auditor General.”
“Constitutions are written on the assumption that those reading it will have basic common sense. The Constitution does not state anywhere that the person appointed as Attorney General or as a Supreme Court judge has to be a qualified lawyer. But those appointed as Attorney General, Auditor General or a Supreme Court judge will always have the required educational and professional qualifications without which they cannot function in those positions. All that the 20th Amendment seeks to do is to replace the changes made to the provisions relating to the Auditor General by the 19th Amendment with the provisions that existed before the 19th Amendment. The opposition has been unhesitatingly uttering every lie that comes to mind with regard to this matter because of the confidence that most people would not be familiar with these obscure provisions of the Constitution. It’s our duty to understand the facts of the matter and to defeat the unprincipled attempt being made by the opposition to mislead the people.”
COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk
Top medical man in North threatens lockdown
Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area
20% of IDH patients need oxygen
By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita
Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.
Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.
“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”
He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.
Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.
One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.
On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.
Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.
Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.
PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.
“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.
Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.
All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.
Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.
Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.
Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country
By Rathindra Kuruwita
The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.
President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”
The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”
Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.
“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”
Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.
“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”
CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.
Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.
“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said
About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.
“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”
Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.
“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”
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